[Ppnews] Angola 3 Dispatch: Albert Woodfox Hearing

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 4 10:30:29 EST 2009

Angola 3 Dispatch: Albert Woodfox Hearing


Film crews, Angola prison guards, and more scenes from a New Orleans courtroom.

­By <http://www.motherjones.com/authors/jordan-flaherty>Jordan Flaherty

Tue March 3, 2009 9:24 PM PST

On a brisk New Orleans morning, as hotel workers, 
attorneys, and the occasional tourist walked 
past, a small crowd gathered outside the US Court 
of Appeals on Camp Street in the city's central 
business district. They came from as far away as 
Maine and California, and as close as a few 
blocks away. They brought "I am Herman Wallace" 
and "I am 
Woodfox" t-shirts, a documentary film crew, and a 
bubble-shaped van–donated by ice cream magnate 
Ben Cohen–that called for Wallace's and Woodfox's 
freedom. They were all here for a hearing of the 
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which would 
whether to uphold a federal judge's decision and let Woodfox to go free.

Standing out among the gathering, in a sharp suit 
and a deep baritone voice, was Parnell Herbert, 
an activist known in the local spoken word 
community as the "poetic panther." Herbert grew 
up with Woodfox, who has been in solitary 
confinement for 36 years. Displaced to Texas by 
Hurricane Katrina, he returns to New Orleans 
whenever there is movement in his friend's case. 
"I'm trying to draw attention to a situation the 
state of Louisiana wants to keep buried," he 
says. "We're here to show support for the truth."

It is rare for a prisoner to leave the Louisiana 
State Penitentiary at Angola, a former slave 
plantation; it's estimated that 95 percent of the 
inmates will die behind bars. (The day before the 
hearing, the 
Center released a report(pdf) showing that one in 
26 Louisiana adults is under correctional 
control, the largest percentage in the US and the 
world.) One who did make it out was Robert King, 
the third member of the Angola 3, released in 
2001 after a judge overturned his conviction. "We 
hope this nightmare is finally ending," King told me at the hearing.

Inside the courtroom–a smallish room with grand, 
50-foot-high ceilings–the front row held another 
type of Angola resident: guards, administrators, 
and their family members. "I asked Warden [Burl] 
Cain if anyone is running Angola," attorney Nick 
Trenticosta told me. "Because it seemed like everyone was here."

There was no courtroom spectacle or 
confrontation. Observers from both sides followed 
the proceedings with an intense and studious 
quiet, some taking notes. The hearing lasted 
about an hour. Lawyers for both sides made their 
case, occasionally interrupted by questions from 
the three-judge panel. "I was very encouraged by 
today's argument," Trenticosta told me later. "I 
think the court understands our case, and that's half our job."

After the hearing ended, supporters chatted, 
dissecting the proceedings. The court may take 
between four weeks and six months to release a 
ruling, but that time seems short compared to the 
decades the case has already taken. Even if the 
court lets stand the ruling overturning Woodfox's 
conviction, the state has already vowed to retry 
him. Still, among Woodfox's supporters–many of 
whom not yet born when he was last a free 
man–there was a palpable expectation of success. 
"Albert has hope," King told me. "And as long as 
Albert has hope, we all have hope."

A3 Supporters Brave the Cold to Speak Out
Angola 3 Action Hosts Another Classy and Creative A3 Event

About 3 dozen supporters gathered early on this 
unseasonably frigid morning wearing all black A3 
T-shirts while a newly outfitted mobile billboard 
proclaiming "36 Years of Solitary, 36 Years of 
Innocence" circled the courthouse.  The protest 
was peaceful, respectful, and well-matched to the 
formal tone of the hearing soon to begin.

A big thanks to Angola 3 Action for organizing 
the event: 
and to Loyola Law School for providing legal 
observers.  I'll send out pictures later this week ;)

Was Albert Wrongfully Convicted?
A Short Summary of this A3 Day in Court

By the time many of us made it up to the 
courtroom, it was packed with ample 
representation from supporters of both 
camps.  Two lines of spectators stood against the 
back wall for the duration of the hearing since 
all available seats were quickly filled.  Many of 
the main characters from the State's team were 
present:  Burl Cain, the Miller family, several 
Angola guards and residents (although none in 
uniform as in previous hearings), and of course Buddy Caldwell.

As advertised, the hearing was short and to the 
point.  Both sides argued clearly and 
reasonably.  None of the three judges shied away 
from questions--I counted almost 20 in the short 
50 min proceeding.  In fact the panel voluntarily 
allotted an additional 5 min to each side to 
account for how inquisitive they were.  It was 
clear to anyone listening that the judges were 
all very well informed about the most minute 
details of the case; and reassuring that despite 
their intense questioning, there was nothing they 
asked that Albert's attorneys were not anticipating.

Since inadequate defense counsel is at the heart 
of Judge Brady's ruling, there was lively debate 
throughout as to whether it was even possible to 
discern in more than a purely speculative way 
whether the performance of Albert's 1998 legal 
team was "inadequate" or simply 
"unsuccessful."  Nuances about the very 
definitions of legal concepts and precedents like 
"Brady" and "Strickland," as well as 
inconsistencies surrounding central pieces of 
evidence like the bloody fingerprint and 
eye-witnesses, were discussed in depth; but the 
the judges also took time to ask for 
clarification about less crucial points like the 
alibi witnesses in Albert's first trial.

Despite diligent, thoughtful, and tough 
questioning of both sides, the judges used words 
like "oversights," "mistakes," and "governmental 
mischief" when questioning the State about their 
case.  Judge King was sure to remind the State 
when they directed her to read a certain page of 
the Magistrate's report that the judges were 
better prepared than the State seemed to 
think:  "Oh, we have read it..." she said emphatically.

Now it is simply a waiting game.  We expect the 
court to rule in 1-6 months, and are hopeful it 
will be sooner than later since they themselves 
"expedited" the process during the bail proceedings.

As a quick review, if the 5th Circuit agrees with 
Albert's attorneys and upholds Judge Brady's 
ruling, then the State has 120 days to either 
retry or release Albert.  They have already vowed 
to retry him.  If the 5th Circuit agrees with the 
State, then the conviction is reinstated and 
Albert would have to start the appeals process 
all over again with a different claim if he wants 
to try to gain his freedom.  There are several 
other possible scenarios that could play out but 
those are the two most likely outcomes.
Media Coverage
NPR, AP, Times Picayune, & Mother Jones

Please take a moment when time allows to review 
some of the media coverage of today's events.

Laura Sullivan did another excellent piece, as 
did the always welcome 

The evening before the hearing 
Jones posted a new investigative background piece 
on the case you might also want to check out.

Will update everyone as soon as anything new 
develops, and as always, thanks so much for all 
your support.  Without it, Albert likely would 
have never made it this close to walking out of Angola a free man.


Tory Pegram
A3 Campaign Coordinator
<mailto:odsllc at gmail.com>odsllc at gmail.com

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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